Sunday, December 14, 2014

The "Rest" of the Exhausted Machine

Tomas Sedlecek's Economics of Good and Evil is so filled with insights, creativity, and wisdom that I think I should just underline the entire book. (I am an underliner. Woe to any who inherit my books.)

Sedlecek writes of the ancient roots of economics. I just finished his analysis of the economics of Old Testament Judaism. He talks, among many other things, about the Sabbath Day as a day of "rest." It was a time to enjoy the fruits of one's labor. (The idea that "labor" was a good thing was unique to the ancient Jews, and anathema to Plato and Aristotle.) "The meaning, the peak of something created, does not lie in the next creation but in the resting in the midst of all we have cocreated. Translated into economic language: The meaning of utility is not to increase it permanently but to rest among existing gains. Why do we learn how to constantly increase gains but not how to enjoy them, to realize them, to be aware of them? This dimension has disappeared from today’s economics."

Today, in the West, there is no goal in all our economic effort at which it would be possible to rest. "Today," writes Sedlecek, "we only know growth for growth’s sake, and if our company or country prospers, that does not mean a reason for rest but for more and higher performance."

The meaning of "rest" for us is different. Rather than the Hebraic enjoyment of what one's labors have accomplished and produced, we "rest" because we're fried, we're burned out, "we need a break." Sedlecek calls this "the rest of the exhausted machine, the rest of the weak, and the rest of those who can’t handle the tempo."

(Economics of Good and Evil : The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street (Kindle Locations 1578-1590). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.)

This un-Hebraic "rest" is only so we can produce more of whatever it is we are producing so we can produce more of the same for the purpose of producing for producing's sake so we can purchase more things and need to work more because we are deeply in debt. In a one-sentence bullet Sedlecek fires: "What sense does it make to measure riches if I have borrowed to acquire them?" (Kindle location 1498)